Carlos Calderon is a fourth semester student from Temple City, California. He was recently named one of ten AUC Student Experience Ambassadors, a position that allows him to chronicle his experiences during medical school at AUC. In this piece, Calderon explores the role of interfaith organizations in shaping medical students’ cultural awareness and sensitivity. Though raised Catholic, Calderon has actively participated in the Muslim Student Association activities on campus--an experience that helps him to better understand people from different backgrounds.
Eid Mubarak! The month of Ramadan has officially come to a close and what better way to end the holy month than with an Iftar.
Muslims in Sint Maarten and around the world observed the holy month of Ramadan from May 17-June 14. Ramadan encourages one to focus on generosity and compassion within the community while fasting from sunrise to sunset and devoting oneself to prayer and spiritual reflection.
The Muslim Students Association (MSA) at AUC celebrated the culmination of the holy month with a festive dinner, known as an Iftar. Students, faculty, and staff were all invited to eat in communion and partake in the conviviality. Leading up to the event, the MSA group held weekly Iftars on Friday nights where students of the Islamic faith could break their fast, eat in fellowship, and pray. Every week, students of all backgrounds attended to facilitate interfaith dialogue and multiculturalism.
I had the fortunate opportunity to attend each week, supporting my Muslim friends and gaining a deeper insight into the Islamic faith. I grew up in a Latino household where Catholicism was an integral part of my cultural upbringing. My religious background and exposure to various communities nurtured compassion, tolerance, and understanding. It cultivated a mindset of inclusivity and a genuine interest in sowing the seeds of unity among people of all backgrounds.
What initially started as solidarity and support eventually grew into a weekly undertaking where I was able to come in fellowship and partake in the genuine camaraderie that the group exemplifies. Never once was I questioned for my purpose in being there or asked about my religious affiliation. The group was always welcoming and took pride in sharing their religious traditions with someone who was not of the Islamic faith.
My time with MSA has opened me up to new experiences and traditions, like the eating of a date and the drinking water to break one’s fast, but the most profound experience has been observing prayer. Words cannot express the depth of the spiritual experience that I encountered. Hearing the beautiful recitation of the Qur’an being spoken in Arabic and being in the presence of my fellow students truly captivated the spiritual devotion and love that transcends barriers. Watching them going through the motions of prostrating while facing the holy city of Mecca was moving and gave testament to the proverb, “home is where the heart is.”
During Ramadan, depriving oneself of food and drink is a reminder of the harsh realities of the world wherein socioeconomic disparities still exist. Although we were fortunate to enjoy the delicious food from local Sint Maarten vendors at the weekly Iftars there are still many communities that are deprived of this blessing. Values of compassion and generosity are depicted in many religions and is also an integral aspect of our role as future physicians. It is important to consider the varying socioeconomic statuses of our future patients in order to achieve positive healthcare outcomes.
I am taking the time to write about this experience because it is of vital importance as we continue our medical education. The need to be culturally sensitive and culturally competent doctors is crucial to reducing health disparities and promoting respect of various cultures.
I invite the entire AUC community to engage in dialogue with individuals of different backgrounds, faiths, and cultural practices. Engage in genuine and authentic discourse and be vulnerable to share and listen so that a cultural exchange of ideas and understanding can flourish. I promise you that much is to be learned when we step outside the confinement of our comfort and journey into the world of the unknown.
The journey of medical school may be a daunting task but the experience of a new horizon that holds so much uncertainty is beautiful in and of itself. Remember that although we may fear that which is unfamiliar and unknown, we must hold an open mind because the beauty is that there is so much possibility for creation. So, I invite you all to create new experiences this semester that bring our AUC community together and foster inclusivity, cultural diversity, and community engagement.